The Beginner’s Guide to Tent Camping

two tents ready for camping

2020 was such an interesting year. It was the year in which terms such as “social distancing,” “self-quarantining,” and “contact tracing” became normal. And it was a year in which camping became a favorite activity for families who were tired of staying home but wanted to stay safe. After all, outdoor recreation has tended to be a socially distanced activity before we created the term. 2021 looks to continue all these trends.

Camping is one of the most popular forms of outdoor recreation and for good reason. It takes the joys of hiking, fishing, swimming, rock-climbing, stargazing, and cooking outdoors, and combines them into one glorious nature filled adventure. There is something for everyone to enjoy. However, camping means different things to different people. There is tent camping, glamping, rv adventures, boondocking, backpacking trips, bicycle camping, survivalist camping, canoe/kayak camping, even reenactment camping.

avocado gnawed on by critter while tent camping

While we have been tent and rv camping for a while now, we still tend to think of ourselves as “beginners” who are happy to share our failures as well as our successes with our readers. I always joke that I go camping for the food, so you would think by now we would know to put our food away to protect it from the critters. And yet, on our very last camping trip, we lost an avocado while napping. One of these days we will learn!

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What do I need for my first time camping in a tent?

You do not need to go overboard for your first camping trip. There are only a few essentials that need to be considered. You will need shelter (a tent or an rv), bedding, lighting, seating, food, and possibly a table. And, you don’t even need to own everything we list.

There are multiple places one can rent gear. Our state parks work with the company Arrive Outdoors. Other options include Xscape Pod, Outdoors Geek, REI, and CampCrate. Please note we have not personally used any of these rental companies. Nor are they affiliate links.

Shelter

You are going to need some sort of shelter. We camp in both tents and campers, as we find both of them fun. While we started off our tent experience in a 4-person tent, we quickly upgraded to a cabin tent with the child.

Our camper experience started in a Sportsmobile and we have just recently upgraded, with the extended family, to a Class C Thor Chateau. The tadpole is most excited about the bed over the cab. We will continue to use both types of shelter for our camping adventures.

Bedding

When we tent camp, we don’t go anywhere without some sort of layer under our sleeping bags. We started off with foam pads, then we moved up to air mattresses, and I’m threatening to start traveling with my camping cot. This is because my bones don’t sleep so well on the ground anymore.

Now when it comes to sleeping in the camper, one would think that the beds are comfortable. However, we have found the mattresses to be slightly less than desirable. Our solution was a cooling memory foam mattress topper. Not only does it add cushioning, it also helps with temperature control.

I do want to emphasize the importance of the correct size and weight of sleeping bags for the situation. Don’t stick a short child in an adult bag just because it is handy. They will be cold (and cranky) all night long. You also want to think about how hot or cold you sleep and use bedding that will accommodate that.

Lighting

Lighting is extremely important while camping. The brightest light is probably not the best choice. Taking away your neighbor’s night vision can create all sorts of issues and we like to be friends with our campsite neighbors. We use both flashlights and lanterns while we are camping. We love the ones with red light options. And we always make sure to have spare batteries for our lights. Luckily, our favorite lanterns are solar powered.

Seating

We really need to look at new chairs for our camping adventures. Our current chairs are coming up on ten years old and really starting to show their age. A table should not be a necessary piece of equipment, but some campgrounds picnic tables are in poor condition, so we have started to pack our own. We also love to bring a hammock for lounging around.

Kitchen

camp kitchen table

I swear I go camping just for the food which means we have always prioritized our kitchen supplies. These include the cooler, a shelter, and lots of cooking supplies. We have also added a camp kitchen to our kit. I don’t recommend this for beginners unless you also do a lot of backyard cooking. We have found more uses for that surface than I originally anticipated.

How do you pack for a tent camping trip?

I read a good quote about minimalism the other day:

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This would be a very good lesson for me to learn when it comes to packing for our camping trips. I would have achieved perfection when I come home with no clean clothes and no leftover food. However, I am also the mother of an eight-year-old boy who likes to play hard, who sometimes nibbles on a meal, and other times eats three helpings. Which means I never know how much food or clothing to pack.

What are the 10 essentials for camping?

Back in the 1930s, The Moutaineers (an organization from Seattle for climbers and outdoor adventurers) created a list of Ten Essentials for emergency situations outdoors. It included a map and compass, sunglasses and sunscreen, a headlamp or flashlight, a fire starter or matches, a knife, first aid supplies, extra clothes, and extra food. Currently we talk about essential systems instead. These include:

  • Navigation (map, compass, GPS, etc.)
  • Lighting (head lamp, flashlight, lantern, batteries)
  • Sun protection (sunglasses, protective clothing, sunscreen)
  • First aid (don’t forget insect repellant)
  • Repair kit (knife, patches, etc.)
  • Fire (matches, lighter, tinder, etc.)
  • Shelter
  • Extra clothes
  • More food
  • Extra water

For a camping trip in a defined area, many of these would be available if forgotten. Although expect to pay a premium if you need to purchase them at the camp store.

How do you pack a car for camping?

When it comes to packing your car for camping, a lot depends on what size car you are taking. We don’t have a small car, nor do we have a large SUV. So having said that, here are our seven simple steps for packing the vehicle efficiently.

Step 1: Give yourself some time. If possible, start the day before you so don’t feel rushed.

Step 2: Don’t just throw stuff into the back of the vehicle. Make sure you have everything you are taking, including items usually kept in the car. Lay them all out and play a little Tetris on the ground to see what fits best where.

Step 3: First in = last out. Realize that the stuff you will need first at the campsite is the stuff that should be packed last.

Step 4: Think about shapes and weight. As you are putting items into the vehicle, know that heavier items should go on the bottom for safety. Also, straight sided items fit nicely together.

Step 5: Fill in the gaps. But not everything will have straight sides, so where there are gaps is where the other items can (hopefully) slide on in.

Step 6: Zippers on top. When, not if, you need to get into something while along the road it will be so much easier if the openings are on top and not face down against the floorboards.

Step 7: Take a picture. Last, but not least, take a picture of how you packed everything. If it works you have a diagram for repeating. If there are improvements to be made, you have someplace to start.

How do you set up a campsite?

As beginners we highly recommend making a reservation at an established campsite. We love to camp in our state parks or at campgrounds established by the Corps of Engineers. We use the website Recreation.gov to book those. Because of this we don’t need to worry about selecting a flat site, ensuring there is water nearby, or figuring out how to handle bathroom needs. We can also be fairly certain there will be a picnic table (condition uncertain) and a fire pit.

Once we arrive at the campsite, after we have checked in, it’s time to set everything up. For us that includes putting up the tent, setting up our kitchen area, getting our campfire going, and finding the closest bathhouse and playground. Priorities People!

Can you set up a tent by yourself?

The short answer is yes. However, if you have a partner, it will be easier. We recommend starting with a quick onceover of the campsite. Find the flattest portion and remove any debris that might have blown onto it. Especially make sure to remove any rocks or sticks which might tear the bottom of the tent and will definitely be uncomfortable while sleeping.

Step 1:

green tent on field with doormat in front

The first step is to lay out your tent’s footprint. This adds a barrier between the ground and the bottom of the tent. We use a tarp that is the same size as the base of our tent to protect it from ground level condensation and guard against rips or tears.

You do NOT want the tarp to extend beyond the base of the tent. It seems like a good idea, to have a porch area. But in reality what happens is any moisture collects on top of the tarp and then slides underneath making the tent wet. Instead, we bring along a door mat and a basket for shoes. We do recommend a shoe free tent rule.

Step 2:

Once the footprint is in place, it is time to unfold the tent and begin to construct the tent poles. Once your tent poles are assembled, thread them through the main frame of the fabric. In our tent, this creates an “X” shape. Next it is time to raise the tent. To do so, starting at one end, insert the end of each tent pole into its corresponding pocket. Repeat as needed with each remaining pole end.

Step 3:

Now it is time to secure the tent by staking it into the ground. Begin at the corners with the provided tie-out loops. Be sure to drive the stakes into the ground at an angle, away from the tent, for maximum stability. Check the stakes each morning to make sure they aren’t coming loose. Sometimes it isn’t possible to stake the tent into the ground, but you can tie it to nearby trees. Just be careful not to trip over your ropes.

Step 4:

Our second to last step is adding the rain fly, even if no rain is called for in the forecast. We do this to help keep the tent dry from dew. We lay it over the top of the tent, attaching it with the provided clips.

Step 5:

That last step? Setting up the inside of the tent!

How do you set up the inside of your tent?

Even with only three people, our tent can quickly become a disorganized mess if we let it. Therefore, we aim to always have a place for everything and everything in its place. Our cabin tent has two rooms. The rear room is the sleeping area and we set it up as soon as the tent is up and secure.

Sleeping area

foam tiles for comfortable tent camping

First down are some foam tiles to add some cushioning to the floor of the tent. Next are the air mattresses. It used to be sleeping pads, it may soon be camping cots. I feel my age more each year! Then we lay out the sleeping bags, pillows, and extra blankets. By unrolling everything out first thing, they will air out and regain their fluff for maximum warmth.

We also keep our clothes back here. Our child is extremely modest, even while camping! It helps to keep each one’s pack close at hand, with openings facing us, in case we need to grab an extra layer in the night. Make sure to leave some space between your items and the walls of the tent. Otherwise, moisture will condensate on the walls and your stuff will get wet.

Living area

Our front room is saved for our outdoor gear and items brought in overnight. This would be things like our shoes (in a basket), toys, books, electronics, and food (to keep it from the critters!). We also keep a light handy right by the door for late night bathroom trips.

If your tent comes with interior pockets or gear loops, take full advantage of them! Getting your gear off the ground keeps you from stepping on it in the middle of the night as you head for the bathhouse. It also helps keep it dry if rain or other moisture comes up through the floor.

Now that we have that done, it is time to sit back and enjoy the fact that our tent is set up and secure. Don’t forget to zip the tent to keep any bugs out. And then, take time to explore the area, cook a meal, and enjoy the surroundings. Or is it?

How do you set up the kitchen area?

After we are done setting up our tent, we promptly get our kitchen area set up to our satisfaction. After all, I camp for the food! So, it is important to me that our setup is close by and easy to use. The following is how we currently set up our camp kitchen. The word currently is important as we are always improving.

Shelter

We like to set up a shelter over the area where we will establish our kitchen section. We have a canopy screen house that keeps the bugs out as well as protects our equipment from the rain. However, a tarp works for shelter just fine. We like to set this up right next to the existing fire pit and/or grill.

Windbreak

A windbreak is another good idea. It helps keep the wind away from where you are cooking which helps to conserve your fuel. It also protects our shelter from embers and serves as a barrier if you are camping with little ones. Safety first!

Camp stove

While we do cook over the firepit and use the grill, we also always travel with our Coleman camp stove. After all, this is how we make our coffee every morning. And, in the case of rain, we can still cook some dishes.

Kitchen table

For years we used the existing picnic table for all our needs. Over time I wanted something more. I absolutely love our camp kitchen table! It keeps our supplies from taking over the table where we will eat, play games, and relax. I love that I can attach our trash bag holder to one side and can do dishes right in the campsite if I choose.

Coolers

We recommend bringing at least two coolers with you. One for drinks, which will get opened All. The. Time. The second for your food that needs to be kept at the correct temperature to help prevent food poisoning. No one wants food poisoning while camping.

Food Suggestions

We aren’t going to go deep here but I have some suggestions to help make it easier for camping beginners to not be overwhelmed.

  • Do as much food prep at home as possible. It is so much easier to clean and process vegetables at home with your full kitchen.
  • Use the same main more than once (for example, hot dogs for dinner one day and lunch the next)
  • This is the time to indulge in fun stuff like individual boxes of cereal or chips. Not everything has to be healthy.

Clean-up

Even though you are on vacation, some chores still need to be done. Washing up the dishes is definitely one of them. Some campsites have an area next to the bathhouse with a slop sink. These are wonderful because you can wash your dishes similarly to at home. Other times you will need to scrap everything off into a trash bag, then clean the dishes by hand.

Garbage

You do not want to leave garbage around your campsite. Not only does it look bad, but it will also smell bad. And it will attract critters and pests. Most campgrounds have easily accessible trash containers for your waste. Some even come by your site once a day to pick up your trash. Make sure to bring plenty of garbage bags for this purpose.

How do you make a good campfire?

We like to follow Smokey the Bear’s advice for building a good campfire.

making more kindling
  • Make sure you have a source of water, a bucket, and a shovel nearby at all times.
  • Gather three types of wood from the ground. Do NOT take wood from a tree, dead or alive. They are a vital part of the ecosystem. You will need Tinder (small twigs and dry leaves, grass, and needles), Kindling (sticks smaller than 1” around), and Fuel (larger pieces of wood). Keep the fuel stacked upwind, away from the fire.
  • Place a few handfuls of tinder in the middle of your fire pit.
  • Add kindling using the appropriate shape for your purpose. We typically build a tent shape with ours in preparation for cooking.
  • Light your kindling with either a match or a lighter. If using a match, wait until it is cold and discard into the fire.
  • Add more tinder as the fire grows. Blow gently at the base of the fire if it needs help.
  • Add more kindling and your fuel to keep the fire going. However, always keep it small and under control.

How do you start a campfire without matches?

adult and child using rod to make sparks for fire

If you are without matches or a lighter, don’t despair. There are other ways to start a fire. We always carry a magnesium rod with us. Another similar product is a ferro rod. Both of these take patience and we recommend practicing before you need to do so, but they works. Even our child can do it under adult supervision. For other methods of starting a fire, we love this article from greenbelly.

What if there is a fire ban?

Unfortunately, there are times when we go camping and a fire ban is in place. Since I love to cook over the campfire, this makes me sad. However, as a transplant from the West Coast I know only too well how devastating wildfires can be. Which means I 100% support fire bans when they are deemed necessary.

When this happens, we use our camping stove for some of our cooking. We also use charcoal in the fire pit and the grill. While we wouldn’t roast marshmallows over charcoal, it does allow for us to cook our foil packets and use our pie irons without any problems. I promise it is still camping even without the campfire.

How do you make your campsite feel like home?

As you wander through the campgrounds, you will see many experienced campers have turned their site into a home away from home. It can be fun to dream about all the ways you want to decorate your spot as well.

Door mat

We place a welcome mat right outside our tent. This is both practical (we scrape and remove our shoes before entering the tent) and welcoming (especially when you buy one that says something such as “welcome” or “hello”).

Rug

Indoor/Outdoor rugs come in so many designs and can make a nice defined living area. We place our camp chairs on there. We get down on the ground to play with the kid. It just makes for a nice feeling.

Personalized yard sign

There are so many fun ones out there we haven’t been able to choose one for ourselves. We are looking at “What Happens at the Campground gets Laughed about All Year Long.” But maybe we should get “Making Memories One Campsite at a Time.” Or even “Where Marshmallows and Friends get Roasted and Toasted.” Maybe we should get all three!

Decorative outdoor lighting

Tiki torches, strands of lights, even battery or solar operated lanterns can be a fun way to add a touch of your personality to your campsite. If you choose to use torches or lanterns with live flames make sure they are fully extinguished before going to bed. And keep them outside of the tent for safety!

How do you clean yourself while camping?

While we don’t feel you have to shower every day while camping, we do feel that it is important to clean up every night before bed. This helps keep your bedding in good shape. Plus, it just feels good to slide into bed all nice and clean. And, no matter how much I love playing hard all day, at some point we do start to stink and that isn’t so pleasant.

Bathhouses

Most campgrounds for beginners will have a bathhouse with shower facilities. We take full advantage of them. Some are nicer than others but every one we have used has been more than adequate. We recommend staying a few campsites away, especially if you are a light sleeper. This is because people will be going in and out all night long and there will be noise.

You will want to wear waterproof shoes of some sort such as flip flops or Crocs to protect your feet both on the walk and from the shower floors. We carry a towel, our change of clothes, and our toiletries on a lanyard. The less you take with you, the less you must keep dry while bathing. And some of the facilities don’t have a nice area for keeping stuff dry.

Outdoor showers

We do not personally own our own portable shower but have used others’ while camping with friends. The ones we have used are a bag that is filled with water, then heated in the sun, with a nozzle that works with gravity. I find them great for rinsing off a dirty kid who is too tired for a real shower. Or for cleaning lake water off after a swim. If you do use one of these, please stay at least 200 feet away from any water source as well as 200 feet away from your campsite.

Eco-friendly bath products

This is important both while doing dishes and while using outdoor cleaning techniques. Most soaps we use at home are not good for the outdoors. We use Campsuds, a bio-degradable soap, for both washing our dishes and ourselves while outdoors. When using a bathhouse, we use regular soap.

Wipes

We also always carry wet wipes with us. These allow us to quickly clean specific areas, especially those nooks and crannies (if you know what I mean) that should be kept clean, even when a full bath or shower is not necessary or available.

Microfiber cloths

I also carry multiple facecloths on every trip. The microfiber ones are great. We use them for napkins, for washing up, and to dry off. In the summer I usually have one tucked in a pocket to use to wipe sweat away. You know how bugs are attracted to sweat!

How do you prep the campsite for bedtime?

tortillas chewed on by critters while tent camping

It’s time for bed but you can’t just go into your tent and fall asleep. The first thing you need to do is make sure your food is in a secure place. Otherwise, you will be visited by critters and you will lose food. We have learned this lesson over and over. One day it will stick.

We also recommend folding up or turning over your camp chairs. Then place them underneath the picnic table. Or else overnight moisture will make them damp and they take forever to dry. I don’t want to enjoy my morning cup of coffee sitting on a wet chair.

Can you sleep outside without a tent?

Why yes, yes you can. There is a whole subset of campers who sleep in hammocks under the stars. Or lay their sleeping bag on the ground and enjoy the Milky Way. Although in that case we recommend a pad underneath the bag to aid in keeping you warmer and drier. And you will want a quality sleeping bag rated for the overnight temperature. Plus, a bivvy sack to keep you and your bag dry in case it rains.

Can I sleep in my car at a campsite?

That depends. In some places it is allowed and in others it is not. In our experience, if an RV is allowed, sleeping in your car is also an option. And, while some might find the idea ridiculous, sleeping in the car can keep you up off the cold hard ground and dry from the rain outside. But having the room in which to sleep means less room for gear. So, it is definitely a tradeoff.

How should I dress for a camping trip?

The short answer is you are going to want to wear comfortable clothes, clothes you can move in and lounge in and if they get dirty you won’t be devastated. For a longer answer, keep reading.

First up, you are going to want to wear something on the way up that will work for setting up your campsite. This will need to be stuff that is okay if it gets dirty, and it should probably involve layers to take off if you get warm and to put on if you get cold.

How do I create a camping capsule wardrobe?

This is a concept that I love because we believe quality trumps quantity in all our clothes but especially with camping clothes. Therefore, we try to take as few items as possible emphasizing those that can do double duty, get worn more than once, and coordinate with everything.

Hats

We are not a family who wear hats year-round. However, when we are camping, it makes sense for us to have one on. They keep our heads warm in the winter, and they shield our eyes and face from the sun in the summer. If you aren’t able to convince yourself to wear a hat, maybe consider a bandana?

Tops

Light colored, moisture-wicking fabrics are best for being out in the summer sun. If you aren’t the type to reapply sunscreen regularly, we recommend a very lightweight long-sleeve shirt for you and the kids. We also recommend layering to handle both temperature changes and activity level differences. Some options include tank tops, t-shirts, sports tops, and light fleece.

Bottoms

We recommend a mix of pants and shorts, depending on the weather. One solution we like is convertible hiking pants. When we get up in the morning, we wear the pants. As the day heats up, we convert to shorts. Then in the evening we zip those legs back on.

Materials

Look for items that can be worn more than once without having to be washed or wearing out. You want moisture-wicking fabrics that will dry quickly. It also helps to have multiple lightweight layers that can be added or removed as needed without taking up too much room in your pack.

Extras

Don’t forget important items like sunglasses, extra socks, rain gear, a swimsuit (and towel), and a hoodie. Additionally, you might want extra undergarments as well. Going to bed in clean, dry undergarments makes for a more pleasant night’s sleep. I also like to sleep in a sports bra so that trips to the bathhouse in the middle of the night are more discreet.

Laundry

Don’t forget to keep your dirty clothes separate from your clean clothes. Especially if you might have gotten into any of the poison plants: poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac. Additionally, keep wet clothes separate from dry clothes to prevent the spread of mildew.

When you do wash your camping clothes, it is best to use scent free detergents. This is because scented detergents tend to attract bugs. The nice thing about washing quick-dry materials is they can line dry and will last longer than being put into the dryer.

What shoes do you wear camping?

We bring three sets of shoes for camping. First is a good pair of sneakers or hiking boots for our hikes. I almost exclusively wear Altras with their wide toe box to accommodate my wide female feet. I so wish the shoe industry would catch up with the reality of our feet. Next is a pair of flip flops or crocs for trips to the bathhouse and to wear in the shower. I would never step on those shower floors in my bare feet. Last is a pair of active sandals like Chacos or Tevas. These allow for our feet to breathe and are also good for walks and going into any lakes or rivers.

Are jeans good for camping?

Some people live in denim and are comfortable wearing them. I am not one of them. I love my blue jeans at home, but I do not like to wear them while camping. If they get wet, it takes them forever to get dry. We prefer to wear convertible hiking pants, or other pants made from quick-dry fabrics.

What do you wear to sleep in a tent?

My husband and my child both sleep in an undershirt and shorts or pajama pants. I like to wear a pair of leggings, a sports bra, and a long t-shirt. These outfits keep us comfortable enough for sleeping and modest enough for a nighttime trip to the bathhouse. I used to wear loose pajama pants until I realized they could drag through the mud and muck (and wet floors in the bathhouse) and I didn’t like bringing that back into my sleeping bag.

What do you do while camping?

adult and child whittling

Well for us, this depends on how long the camping trip is. If we are just going overnight, we tend to do a whole lot of nothing! But if it is a weekend or longer trip there are so many options. We love to go hiking on any trails close by. The kid always enjoys riding his bike or playing on the playground. If the pool is open, we will probably be in it. And we are working on the kid’s whittling skills.

Additionally, if we are at one of our state parks, we make sure to get our park passport stamped. And if it is a national park, we try to participate in a junior ranger program! Any program put on by the park rangers will probably be a good one.

What are fun things to take camping?

We have an eight-year-old. For our family, fun things to take camping include his bicycle, a deck of cards, binoculars, and glow sticks. We also enjoy time spent on the water in a kayak if that is an option. But one of our absolute favorites is our walkie-talkies. They allow our child a sense of freedom; they allow us a sense of safety.

What are some fun activities to do while camping?

We enjoy scavenger hunts, nature walks, flying kites, geocaching, and taking advantage of any organized activities by the campsite. This might be a scorpion hunt. It might teach how to use a bow and arrow. If there are caves in the area, we might get to go spelunking. We also use the app iNaturalist to help us identify flora and fauna as we hike.

It’s raining. What can we do that is fun while camping?

Since we can’t control the weather and we tend to book our reservations months in advance, sometimes it is going to be bad weather. Don’t let this upset your fun. There are plenty of things to do even when it is raining. First off, we are not made of sugar so if it isn’t too bad, we enjoy our regular activities regardless of the rain. If it is pouring, we recommend the following:

eating ice cream in the rain while camping
  • Reading
  • Storytelling
  • Card games
  • Board games
  • Watching something on a portable device
  • Playing video games
  • Snuggling

It’s nighttime. What’s fun?

Just because the sun has set doesn’t mean the fun has to end. There are a whole bunch of activities that are only possible to enjoy after the sun has set. These are some of our favorites for our family of three:

  • Go for a nighttime walk
  • Make shadow puppets
  • Tell ghost stores (if your kid(s) won’t be too scared)
  • Enjoy some stargazing
  • Try new varieties of s’mores (try some of the options we list in our article on campfire cones)
  • Make colored fire

If you are camping with a group and have more kids available, we recommend:

  • Flashlight tag
  • Hide and seek in the dark
  • Glow in the dark bowling
  • Sing campfire songs
  • Play twenty questions

What do you do in a tent at night?

We are going to keep this family friendly as that is the stage in which we are in life. We tend to not crawl into the tent until it is time to sleep unless the weather is less than desirable. However, we still need some time to wind down. Since we are on vacation, we let a few rules slide. I usually listen to my audiobook while the husband and the child both take a few minutes to play on the Switch or watch a short episode on our portable DVD player. We own pretty much every instance of Scooby Doo cartoon that has come out over the past seven(?) decades.

It’s time to go home. How do you break down the campsite?

Just like setting up the campsite follows a specific order, breaking down the campsite is also best done in a specific order. Similar to our first in = last out, we want to reverse the process when we are putting stuff away.

Clean up

We generally start our clean up after our breakfast meal. This is because we will either leave before lunch or we will eat a cold meal. Our first step is to wash our dishes and throw away our trash. Then we pack up the rest of the food and put it in the car.

Put out fires

If you have lit a fire for any reason, you will need to make sure it is completely extinguished. Use enough water to drench the fire and turn any ashes into a muddy slurry. You will need to do this whether you used the fire ring, the grill, or a barbecue.

Pack up totes

As you know, we use the tote system for camping. It is at this point that we put anything we are not going to use between now and time to go back into it’s tote. By putting stuff back where it came from, we can quickly find it the next time. We also make sure to check everything once we get home to clean anything necessary and to replace used up items.

Put away furniture

It is at this point that we put away the furniture pieces we have. This would be our camp kitchen table and our chairs. We figure at this point the picnic table will be enough room for us to eat lunch or do anything else we still have remaining.

Pack sleeping gear

Now we put our sleeping bag back into it’s sack and decompress the air mattresses. Once they are smooshed flat, we put them in their bags as well. All of this gets set aside to be put into the vehicle in the gaps between the totes.

Break down a tent

We break down the tent last for a very good reason. This allows it to dry off from overnight dew or any rain. You don’t want to fold up a tent when it is wet because it can get moldy. If you have to put away a wet tent because it is raining, as soon as you get home unpack it and dry it off. Never leave a wet tent packed up!

Step 1:

Sweep out as much debris as you can. We use a small whisk for this. You want to pack as clean a tent as possible.

Step 2:

Next, unclip the rainfly from the tent and fold it up. Place it into the bag.

Step 3:

Pull all the stakes from the ground and put them into your stake bag.

Step 4:

Remove the various poles from the tent body. Fold them up and place them into the tent pole bag.

Step 5:

Fold the tent into a rectangle shorter than the length of the tent storage bag. This may take a few folds. We perform about three folds to get our cabin tent into a rectangle, then two more to get it shorter than the length of the bag.

Step 6:

Place the poles and stakes at one end and then roll the tent into a log. Place this tent log into the storage bag. You are now ready to carry the tent to your next camping location or home.

Reminder: If you are going home, make sure to air your tent out before you store it. You never want to store a damp tent. It opens you up to all sorts of problems the next time you go camping.

Leave no trace

The last thing you want to do before leaving the campsite is to practice Leave No Trace principles. Basically, this means to leave the campsite as clean as or even cleaner than it was when you arrived. For an established campsite, walk your site in a grid pattern cleaning up anything you find along the way. Pick up trash, even if it wasn’t yours to begin with. By doing this you will help make the next camper’s trip more enjoyable.

In conclusion:

2021 continues to be an active year for camping. The National Park Service had a study done at the end of 2020 in which we learn about the state of the industry. While it was slightly overwhelming to read it in full, we were not surprised to see how popular camping has become and is expected to remain for the foreseeable future. We can tell by how crowded the campsites are and how hard it is to get a reservation.

If you too want to join in the fun, we hope this beginner’s guide to tent camping has helped you out. The good news is we have four more trips scheduled this season so far and are hoping to squeeze a few more in. Where are your favorite places to camp? Tag us on Instagram @campinganswer and let us know. Maybe we will see you there!

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